Who knew what airline it was. Why it’s called taxiing, I don’t know. I have some standout thoughts but those aren’t among them. My thoughts include smoke and fire, undercarriage wheels and trees and geometric angles and in the most general way a little hope. Sarah does ask some questions. Airports are cities where nobody lives, don’t I agree? Her elbow instructs me to look at her, but I just play with the flight magazine in its pocket. I sort of comb the top of the pages. It’s a fingernail thing, no harm done. In minutes we will bump and speed, hopefully lift. Sarah piles on the questions. She’s on edge. I am. A person can fly first class and still be on edge. Spread out with headphones, lounge around, pour down the vodkas: the aerodynamics couldn’t care less. In her words money can’t smooth everything. It can’t. Tablecloths maybe.
Looking back, back from that position of bliss we’re in now, I know I feigned calm—noting how the window was fogged at the edges, noting how to creaks and bumps the view rotated, away from those buildings where lights had flickered— while Sarah, under her breath, was counting off the essentials on her fingers: life jacket, oxygen mask, exits. I like her hands, good hands, good for pianos and sex, I’d like to add something appreciative about the lines on her fingers but had better move on. I was cool during these thoughts, that’s all I’m saying. Tow trucks were covering the ground in that carefree airport way, quietly confident. There were pine trees in the distance, low and humble. Let that be a fair summary of the story so far: Sarah was oxygen masks and jackets and exits, I was tow trucks and pines. Again I looked out. The view was a still, flat expanse. Not the sort of scene you’d draw someone’s attention to. Grateful at least for the flatness, I gave it a nod—as nods go one of my smallest, anyone’s smallest.
I clicked the seat-belt and smiled at Sarah but the look came out nervous, below expectations. She carried on counting. After our long marital sojourn—if that’s the word, it’s close enough—I’m interested in her still. It all began with me listening to her enthuse over something or other, Georgian housing, the South Downs, something. That’s a long way back. Hippies and Carnaby Street. The interest quickly peaked, plateaued nicely—held there by the sex—after the plateau the line on the graph has tailed slowly, to around the level at the very start, the rate of heartbeats I got in the first place over the Georgian house fronts, or was it when we went together looking at the Turkish carpets. It has been many years. Lately, speaking on behalf of this graph of mine, I can plot only little speckled points of interest, ink spatters: for holidays, for bird feeders, for doing crosswords together.
In the first class beside me—we had splashed out—her counting of the dangers in international flying had gone for a thumbs-included variant, allowing a total of ten fingers as opposed to eight. That’s Sarah: a person should maximise where they can. We were in Austria once. I asked Sarah if she wanted more sekt. Sekt or sex? she said. Well, I said, do you want sekt or sex? Sarah: Both. It’s a default position: if asked to choose, say both. Maximise. Include thumbs. So it was she was on eight, and the blue-nailed index finger of her left hand lay over the thumb of her right, making a cross, holding it down, waiting to lift away. What was coming next? Doors, dinghies, sodden spars waiting in the ocean? I rushed through a little prayer: not that kangaroo business, please.
The seat-belt sign twitched as she said seat belt, hard to say which came first. In terms of finding the belt, fastening, snapping click, terms of tightening, she was anyway streets ahead, that wasn’t the point. The flimmering symptomised the new nervousness. The electrics then steadied, flooding hope into the first class, its unlimited drinks, broad armrests and vacant seats. I adjusted my posture, sat more centrally. In a move to override pictures of foam and sirens on the runway I surveyed the flat expanse. I had a caption for it: exhausted greys and greens have brought shame upon their hues. It was a true description no one could take from me. The seat-belt sign stayed. Was this going to be an ordinary day, no—the evidence came in immediately. With the foam and sirens well crushed by my brain power alone, until I was way ahead of everything, thinking pelicans and mosquitos—a great yearning surged up from nowhere. It was huge and non-specific. Holy cow. It was hugeness itself, yawning open, stretching, ridiculous and wild. A theory crossed my mind: this was the universe itself. To find a handle on this—was there one, could she or I come up with some explaining?—I turned back to my wife, fitting in one last ruffle of the magazine pages on the way. Sarah however was not available for consultation. Clutching her phone in her lap, in the pleats of her skirt, she was staring roof-wards, as if at hieroglyphs, at the lifelines in their plastic housings.
I may have under-described Sarah just now, under-represented the true amount of her edge. Hers was all edge. It was more a brittle-ice kind of edge than, say, Samurai sword blades. I have loved her. Despite the wisdom of thousands of books and films to the contrary, claiming when love dies it’s very dead, maybe I will again. Anyway, I have. And nowadays? Is there even a nowadays, whatever became of nowadays? Now I’m mostly cool on her, mostly I track her as she shifts through time. She has been on a long, steady shift, the way of those plates beneath us all. The tectons. I’m trusting that’s it, tectons; unless they’re those mountains across the world in Wyoming. And what if they were, I’m only saying these things to myself, about myself and Sarah. Since that day at the altar she’s been sliding around as much as the rest of us, while I’ve been no superman, not a Tom Hanks, as Sarah reminds me, but who is. Not even Tom Hanks is Tom Hanks, as they say. (He says this himself I bet.) I try. At the coalface of love I’ve developed a secret tool—a map, a picture of what I used to love in her. I don’t mean the standard stuff, the physical, the dancing repertoire, the energy and ways with spiders. No, I have down: the sharp responses (now there’s a possibility for the blades from Japan), the brightnesses; her voice on the phone (frequencies to give anybody the shivers); those coy smiles over the shoulder. The map is like the old continent before the tectons moved, something I whip out of the drawer when we’re faltering. When I look her way I’m searching for traces of the original.
As I was saying, while she is all edge—a shadow is slipping across the wing: clouds—I’m part edge and part extras: samplings of music, like that sultry Havana song*—don’t misunderstand me, that’s not where we’re headed—that old hit with pizzazz, with its out of tune piano and stop-and-start rhythm, oo-na-na, I was sampling that and the sights through the window, guessing what plane this was—a 747, turbo jet, airbus 230, DC-10? Nothing consumes time like a question. It was a different plane, seen from the departure lounge. From there we threw in other fears: was that really the angle the wing should be at? and the pilots can’t see the wings, not properly, they’re behind the cockpit, the engines too, shouldn’t the wings be in front somewhere? Questions, questions, little time for answers, with the future so tightly jammed against the present.
Don’t get me wrong. This is not a walk in the park, not a bed of roses, not a piece of cake in anyone’s book, but not a rainy day at a slate quarry either. I never thought it could be a release to be seat-belted and on edge beside Sarah on a 747, an airbus, a DC-10—I’ll stick at 747, from now on it’s a 747—aiming to go to a remote and secluded somewhere, overhung by palms we’d been told, great fronds shading warm Pacific waters—but it was, was a release to be seat-belted beside her, with those satisfying scratches at magazine pages, a view out and snatches of an old piano, that song with that certain something, that sway back and forth.
And that’s it, a snapshot of whatever it’s a snapshot of. There may be pleasure ahead, but first we had the fear of death to deal with. Said Sarah: Tom Hanks piloted everyone to safety on the Hudson river. Relax! I said, as a shorthand for let’s trust in our pilots—an idea I knew instinctively was wreathed in good sense, an idea I could provide further sociological back-up for, if requested. There’s a social contract, I told myself, surely familiar in piloting schools across the land—a division of tasks: they fly us, we leave them to it. Never, never would we dare touch their joysticks.
Said Sarah: We’re in first class, Robert, we can go up front and check. Check? Why not, she said—a visit to the cockpit would require our best behaviour, no coughing or blowing of noses, just one quick question (How’s it going, Sarah suggested, or: Do you feel this great rush of ours over the ocean is like being on the inside of a shooting star, yes or no) and back out quietly, not tap the glass of their altitude meters … I got drowsy listening to her, thinking this was air travel, yes, she isn’t serious, I could doze off hearing this sort of stuff, it was relaxing, letting go, zen. Yes a person has few choices but to strap in and follow whatever they find in themselves, in their character: the great yearning at nothing particular, the greys and greens, Havana, the tablecloths, the sky.
A jolt. Sarah clutched her phone tighter, resuscitating the old unanswered Why is it called taxiing? question, a question I’d rather not die on. Imagine: Why, because … Cut! THE END, bring on the foam, let’s hear those sirens, come on come on. Taxiing, skiing, safari-ing, grafitti-ing, Sarah said into the oddly grubby carpet floor as she practised the emergency brace position, why taxiing, any time there’s a double i something’s up. Much doubting the foundations of this remark, I spoke to the dark hair, the hidden being beside me. Skiing, what’s up about skiing? No reply, unless deep breaths are replies. (There is a case for thinking this.) I tried again: Holidays can end with slings or crutches, is that what you mean, like that time we ran down the slipway for the boat at St Malo? This just got me deep breaths, slowly in; held; slowly out. I tried again: Sarah look out there, there are the others, 747s, airbus 230s, DC-10s, the queue, taxiing, we’re all taxiing. Nothing. The being beside me breathed on coolly, as if in an exercise routine.
OK that settles it, I said to myself, my wife’s reactions were enough contribution for the time being. I turned inwards to Havana, although, repeating myself, I knew perfectly well that wasn’t where we were headed. I took it from the top. The bar-room piano sleaze. The night-club air. It’s astonishing how a person can reproduce a song, any song. I was breathing the air I imagined in Havana. Tobacco, cumin, oregano, I got as close to the central aura as I could. Oo-na-na I heard as silky skin glistened in a coppery glisten behind my eyelids. This was a song with outreach. I will be struck always by its overwhelmingness. Before it engulfs the 747 and the airport and its approaches and fields and the safaris and the ski slopes, the flight crew, the blades from Japan, I must point out one thing. There was a mystery to it, namely: either I was sampling it (it’s been said most men have a jukebox between the ears) or, far more unearthily, it kept visiting me.
As I saw it, the song on the inside helped me pile up the silence on the outside. (What can I say—the uses of culture are infinite.) Uh: again a jolt. Technically a forward trundle. What next in the ballet steps of aviation. The forward trundle, the double skid, the yaw? In mid trundle I was again tempted to take out the flight magazine and read the name of the airline, it would have been easy, but I didn’t fancy the aftertalk, the inevitable repeat of the question of how a man and his wife can board a plane and not know what airline it is. On we trundled. Entering the airline question would only open the door to another: could airlines fly like this one, with only half their livery, and what about no livery at all? That must be ours, we’d said in the departure lounge, there, with the letters painted out. The new paint’s unfinished, said Sarah, what’s that going to be on the tail plane? it’s not a kangaroo is it? No, not a kangaroo. The edginess began there, at the kangaroo business, at what was not a kangaroo. More talk of not a kangaroo I would rather smother, beneath my piles of silence.
Silence suits me. Silence suits me as a window person, a gazer; a shopper who knows a good shirt when they see one but needs help with the shoes, so Sarah said once. We’re headed that way now, not to the shops quite, but to the amenities, to the inviting food and beds and in our case shores of the Pacific, with those palms, who even without seeing them can forget them, after all the business with the plane that will be the story.
Sarah jumped. An announcement. Captain Iturbe … co-pilot Jamie … crackle … conditions … excited of course … spattering. This brings me to the crew. What a crew. With their scraps of uniform, here a blouse, there a tie, a scarf, we don’t know what airline this is, who these people work for. The understated elegance of the airline scarf, Sarah said cattily, remained understated. Lack of care in one area, she said, suggests carelessness in others. Why the ragged uniform? we asked. Yes we were at the tail-end of the latest pandemic but was that a fair excuse? Were we in the hands of jaded professionals, amateurs? … on board … estimated … routine … more spatters, something about new joy and old times.
The 747. Was it old? There’s shanghai-ing, said Sarah now sitting unbraced and dropping her safety instructions card. Are you listening Robert? I’m sorry Sarah, I said—an on-edge sorry—I was closing down on that topic, the double i ‘s, you carry on but without me, I want to rise into the sky as much as you do, and please don’t give me that line about how Tom Hanks would have listened better, would have approached the subject of two i ‘s quite differently.
Again I sampled. Sampling is at the heart of my approach. Sampling can be a lifestyle if you’re on edge, and on this plane still not in the air and with no livery not bound for Havana I went for it, sampling whatever was going. Lo, lo and behold, the yearning came again. Clearer now, with more of a message: yearn for a lot, yearn without limit, this is first class; think big; big screen. I sat up straight and sampled the sky. It had the grey of old wisteria. But don’t stop me there. It was ashen with a hint of lilac, and tamarisk towards the bottom, the horizon. Electricity was about. Sheets of it on the move.
Robert, said Sarah, Tom Hanks wouldn’t have spoken to me like that. He’s an actor, I pointed out. America’s darling, said Sarah. That’s Sarah, making a Sarah statement (a statement to which there can be no reply). Besides, I like Tom. I’ve never been able to figure out why I don’t have him on my side. Goodness Robert, Sarah said, what is that shed doing built so close to the runway, is that wise? Yes, I said to my own surprise, I mean no, not wise. I even saw what maybe she did: the colliding wing fly off, the dousing of the lights in the fuselage (that collective groan, the shock, hearts vaulting). Immediately, the ploughing on at great speed, further and further to the right, into the last burning-cable smell of life, that dark nothing.
Alibiing, said Sarah, is that a word? I made a no-I-don’t-think-so face. I debated with myself over another reply and won and lost my own motion—it had crossed my mind the 2 i’s was a coffee bar in the early days of rock’n’roll, of quiffs and Brylcreem and shirts with stripes. Party dresses and winkle pickers. As I say, I pondered the suitability of this as a final thought to pass to Sarah, a kind of conciliatory move, before the dark, dark nothing that would be not even dark, but no, a person shouldn’t add information just for the sake of it, better to say I love you Sarah, to rush ahead with a minimum of punctuation, I love you Sarah I certainly used to and I might again it’s not impossible, albeit not in the two to three minutes before take-off, two to three said the Captain, yes if planes taxi shouldn’t taxis fly, I suppose there may be something in that and yes, yes of course I’ll wake you after you’re dead I promise, I’ll shake you gently, I love you.
Two minutes. I gave final thoughts to encroaching images of coffee bars in old Soho, encroaching only to die on the spot in the greys and greens, there with the flight magazine, the tectons. Sarah leant forward, a hand on my thigh. It felt good. I put my hand on hers. We are pleased enough with each other’s thighs. On our long marital sojourn this pleasure has not altered, not diminished. We are taxiing past a windsock, Sarah said; the grass by the tarmac needs a cut. A what? A cut. Could it be we’ve reached the blast pad? she went on: on the blast pad we are in the hands of the airport controllers, they own the runways. You’re not listening Robert, said Sarah, her eyes having darkened in the different lights. Taxiing could come from taxi, Robert, the way both crawl forward. Yes, I said, in a way not committing to agreeing or disagreeing. Yes, I said again in the same way, pleased it came out as it did.
Sarah took out her paperback, purchased hastily an hour before. It showed a man behind a woman, his hands clasped around her waist. I knew from the cover he was an art dealer with an apartment overlooking Central Park—something easy to arrange for people in books, I was thinking, to a growing engine noise. So: this was the blast pad. The book lay limp. Don’t you think, said Sarah, the flight attendants could have been smarter? In their absence, preparing for take-off, I struggled to recollect them—Yes (that was all I could come up with). They were not being true to their vocation (Sarah). The engines roared. Is graffiti-ing a word, can (Sarah)—? The attendants (desperate in her volume). We bumped and sped. And sped. We lifted, tilted thirty degrees. Heading for a hole in the clouds perhaps; only the pilot could know. The layers of old wisteria parted. A city glared back, all reservoirs and roads.
We climbed and we climbed and we levelled. We rippled and smoothed. In the blue vastness the panoply of questions (wings, engines, liveries) turned to a different panoply. In the new delirium, would Captain Iturbe be tempted to throw the plane about the sky? Or co-pilot Jamie, given the freedom of the joystick? When, if not today, at the unshacklings, the latest shiftings in restrictions? The globe had been stopped from turning long enough.
Amid the bulbous clouds came the wave of belts unclicking. Even the personalities best suited to airline disasters (the Sarahs and I) were unleashed. First out of the traps, out of their skins, were the attendants—cracking open bottles, laughing away, revelling in tales of sex and barrel rolls (not usual for jet airliners). The cartwheel a certain Frank performed down the aisle went viral, though the word viral has lost its allure, we know. Swept along by the general momentum, the first class and business buried their protocols and stopped being so stuffy. From the mouths of a retired boxer, an undertaker and a grower of carnivorous plants came talk of new horizons. Soon jaws could again be broken, funeral gatherings would go through the roof, while for some reason the black market for Venus flytraps was surely doomed. From a hotspot in the economy class came renditions of We gotta get out of this place, some striking, well, unusual harmonies almost drowned in the swells of singing. Between songs an enlivened Sarah was up swapping her paperback for a copy of Wolf Hall. The boxer and the undertaker compared tattoos. I could go on, but why heap on the detail. Talking of Trinidad and Venezuela, we shot across the ocean.
Shielded still by the aura that first class buys, I nodded off, off and on, letting the party go on without me. Below, container ships were those familiar pins of light. Was this great rush of ours like being on the inside of a shooting star? Best not to ask the captain. That altimeter cover was more likely perspex than glass. I dozed, imagining the altimeter reading on that plane as it landed on the Hudson. The singing that might have broken out. Sarah was nudging me. We bumped above land. Those signs flickered. Everyone disappeared to their seats at once, the way cockroaches do. My concern at the altitude meter returned—someone ought to tap it. At a lull of the engines came a dropping down, a skating, a braking, the claps and cheers.
In no time an idea of rush was in the air, a person just senses it. Hurry enters the blood. Out, this way, no that way, after the briefest show of visas we had shot through glass doors and, without a moment to consult phone times, maps, internal animal sundials, were being bounced side to side in a bus bright with sounds and colours, striving towards a certain Playas; a bus without windows, hung with dancing skeletons, guaranteed by God to arrive, the fumes in our noses, wind in our ears. Sharing the heat but not the wind were chickens on the floor, while a goat lay strapped on the roof. It could have been a fine time for a declaration of constancy and love. But I could see the speedometer from our seats and it said zero.
Sarah resumed her questions, the number of which is as infinite as her life will allow. Would the change in hemisphere see the moon in a different place that night? Was that knocking sound hooves on the roof? Do goats yawn? My lungs must fundamentally differ from my wife’s—I hadn’t the breath to respond. But I did feel the goat in me, the goat of poetry wanting desperately to attach itself to the moment and speak, try a haiku, explain from its point of view its present sense of a pathway through the universe. Yet I was happy enough to stay silent and alive, as the countryside kept moving, as God’s appointed driver there’s something ’bout his manner oo-na-na dodged a convoy of trucks piled high with bottled water. This is no place for a goat, Sarah shouted. No? No. What a wind. Were we to arrive alive in Playas we would take the last step by taxi. If not arriving alive, we would skip the taxi. And save the fare, a comedian would say.
Yes, on went the bumps and jolts and swerves, brightly rang the music of the bus. Bluntly knocking went its cylinders, baying for oil. And so we stopped, stepping out in a place of tree blossom, a slice of the bright music stepping out with us. Oh the blossom, the reds and pink and purple a stunning southern opposite, in what I can only call soul, to those exhausted airport colours. In a day of distractions—the uniforms of the crew, the tailplane, the cartwheel, the undertaker’s description of modern cremations, too gruesome to mention details—this new shock hit the collective nose: blossom. In the air, on the trees, on the ground. Who knew what blossom it was, what trees. A sweet apricot. We watched the goat of poetry being lifted down. So goats do yawn. A taxi took over; guaranteed by God to arrive. Taxi-ing, said Sarah, a free spirit, a hippy of a … held together by string, she shouted. Skeleton-hung and open-windowed, it was off and away to more bright music, shooting over flat green swathes of lowland rice.
Spreading from behind a billboard, around a corner: an ocean, to be specific the Pacific. Spreading bluely, neatly. So this was it. It. At last. Because this was our destination, we kissed. (That’s the way with kisses and destinations.) That blossom had got there before us. On account of this too, we kissed. Shockingly fully, both times, a lot. The flush on Sarah’s face said we had been blown in by a storm. On the first and only time I felt wizard-of-oz-ness I remember we looked around, trying to see past the trees, which may have been oleanders. Jet lag impacted on the scene. In one example of its effect, the taxi receded to a far corner of my field of perception. For the position of the sun the time was ridiculously early. There were shacks with concrete blocks and corrugations. We moved off slowly. The town of Santa Maria was tiny and without paving, where dogs lay but quietly. I gathered together my knowledge of the future. Weatherwise, warmth with a haze was forecast. My personal forecasts, less clear, said there would be new people, vaguely chairs, a vague bed, pillows, window, water taps, animals, voices. There would be rainless days, pelicans and mosquitos. We found a place. The place was small.
The small place had a manager. (It was a long day, with lots of changes.) The manager had a black moustache. He had a girlfriend. As we tried the language we were regarded with silent curiosity, before he switched us into English for our benefit, or even more for the benefit of his doting girlfriend (when I think about it, for his own benefit, for all benefits). She put her elbows on the table (there was no counter) to better gaze at him. This is a good time, he said: a haze veils the sun. We nodded. The sun and its bright light, he said, slowly, without a verb, ending on a big smile. (His girlfriend smiled too, taking herself perhaps to be the light.) My friends, you have come to the right place, at the right time. (Sarah yawned.) Do you know what we say to everyone who comes here? We shook our heads; the girlfriend yawned; I yawned. The dog in the corner slept. We say, Allow yourself to be envelopped in the meteorological, because you will be enjoying the push from the north. (This is the kind of thing people dare say to you when they see you’re jet-lagged.) Del norte, his girlfriend semi-repeated. I savoured the moment—jet-lagged or not, this was a true holiday. Our manager stroked his moustache quickly. This pushing del norte (smile to girlfriend), he went on, is the warm equatorial current that flows down from the Gulf of Panama, pushing on our, your, the, the Humboldt current blowing in from the west. Melting into the tabletop, his girlfriend reached out an arm to him; he winked to her. Come this way. There were stairs on the outside, a door. There was a pleasant darkness. Darkness, darkness. It wasn’t Havana but Oo-na-na, caramba! The wafts from those cigars; the greetings in darkened doorways, where the doors were always off their hinges.
Light on. After the new people, there stood the chair, the bed, the pillows, window, water taps. We lay exhausted. (Like goats on a roof. Could there be such a thing as roof lag?) Money can’t smooth jet lag either—we agreed. We slept. In the morning we had to acknowledge the different air, the warmth, the haze. Sarah raved over the push from the north. I was for the blossom. Strong with the taste of lime came fruit, to eat and drink. There were banana trees and what were—the probability was growing—likely oleanders. T-shirts were more than enough. The sun burned our skins. Sarah sauntered. Pelicans dived, I remember sampling the sights of them. The warmth spread over the evening. We ate the best fish and successfully reminisced. Again the conversation had its own life, its stages, moods, harmonies. In the street the moon (upside down, thinner) had taken over from the candle, the candle I forgot to mention, I was so carried away back there, what with the new period we were entering, a feeling I’d had but hadn’t brought up until now, what with the push from the north, the girlfriend melting into the table. The evening air—was this Humboldt’s current—was a balmy envelope to the night. I chased Sarah up the stairs. She would have loosened straps had there been any. My watch came off its wrist.
You’re filling me, she said as we locked. I’m full. Glimpses, revelations and it was over, very short, cleansing. We lay on our backs. I detected, appreciated the salt in the air. Pushed back on my shoulders, we made love again, Sarah all lightness and care. That’s Sarah. She was loud, made me loud, I craved her. Shining, exhausted, we glided silently into a blank world, woke, blinked, lay murmuring. Afterwards so much lightness came a heaviness, perspiration, saltiness. The salt felt good for the perspiration. Sarah asked how far away I thought the nearest piano was. That’s Sarah too: wandering in her thoughts, like everyone. I decided not to ask her why, this piano question. I was lying in that position people liked when they smoked cigarettes, in the old days, the days of the 2 i’s; I wondered what their coffee was like, probably awful, all milk and bubbles. I know one thing about love, I said. Oh really, said Sarah. Mm: it’s important to chase a person upstairs, mm, yes, love is a mad chase, I said, it’s all in the chasing. Sarah: hm. There came another wordless gliding about the room, the little window, the big-cracked ceiling. Here we are in the sweet-smelling blossom of Santa Maria, I thought, where I have found my wife again even if half my heart is in Havana. Imaginary Cuban car horns kept arriving and departing. That song of constant promise. Tobacco, coffee, rum. The horns blared. The glasses slid along the counter.
According to Sarah, another day dawned. Not her doing though—she said, looking round for her clothes—they do this everywhere, days do, there is no stopping them. I was smiling, acknowledging this was the easy life, the life suggested by the idea of holidays. But was this us? The flight had come and gone. We had lost our edges. We strolled to the sea again. Sarah wanted her Wolf Hall. The street on which we lurched and made stupid jokes Sarah renamed stupid-jokes street. She said in turning: We’re blessed. She spoke in that voice from the old times on the phone, saying: This is good, as good as—she kissed me on the mouth. Darling, she said. Another chase up the stairs, slower. We undressed where we lay. Again there was moving in tune but it was different. There were twists, and turns, something more fluid. There was going slow, and staying coupled. Great shudders. Outside birds sang their bright hearts out.
We woke facing. I must have fallen asleep when I thought I was watching you, I said, what’s this? Wolf Hall lay between us. Sitting up, Sarah tried balancing it on her head. On mine. Don’t move: Hold it. As she touched, brushed against me, Wolf Hall fell to the floor. Oh dear, she said, no discipline, simply none. I reached to pick it up. Try again? I handed it to her. Tomorrow maybe, she said—glancing at the cover. I liked it on screen, she said (stretching, yawning), mostly because of the actors—say Wolf Hall and I think of that Mark actor, which makes me see him in Bridge of Spies
Which is where I’ll leave it, there in Santa Maria, the warm current pushing towards us from the north, the salt you can lick off your skin and the chicken with rice which missed being mentioned until now, with the pelicans and the bougainvillea which also missed being named but grew almost everywhere, with me sitting-up-lying-down listening to Sarah. Our voices are fainter by now in any case. Anyway—Sarah was saying as she bent back the spine of her book—the dukes and queens, Cromwell and Henry, Anne Boleyn, there’s lots of parts. We can do scenes from it. Halfway to the shower, she gave me the look, the smile over the shoulder. These are some of the things I was thinking about, she said, while you were holding out on me, staring through the window, playing with that magazine. So come on. I like to live out a story. There’s nothing I like more, not so far anyway.
John Saul recently had a piece in Full Bleed magazine. Otherwise, he made the contribution from England to the Best European Fiction 2018 anthology published by Dalkey Archive, and had work included in Best British Short Stories 2016. He is in London.